Total War needs no introduction. If you don’t know about it you are probably not a strategy gamer, a gamer at all or live under a rock. The Total War series is one of the most successful strategy gaming series in the world. Total War Attila was brought to us in February 2015 and runs on the same engine as Total War Rome II but are the new features destroying the original qualities of the game and are Total War games progressively getting worse?
Attila introduces so many new mechanics in the game it is hard to keep up. While razing settlements is not for everyone’s tastes this is not the only annoying feature of Attila. The inability to set the tax rate for each settlement and the ability to change capitals is missing too. It seems the developers aimed for something big but left out the basics of settlement management, the ones which mattered most.
Most of all, you have to think about what you build and building is the key to avert disaster rather than a wall of spears or charging Shock Equites. There are buildings for money, sanitation, public order, food, trade and military and you have to watch out for everything. And of course Attila had to copy Rome II when allowing us to build only six buildings in the capital of each province and four in minor settlements. You really have to think about what to build.
Some reviewers have praised this but this isn’t a base builder, it’s about conquest. Doesn’t the system take away from the fun of conquering an enemy by taking his last two settlements in one turn and expanding rapidly in other such crafty ways? So what is the problem with taking two or three settlements in quick succession? In Attila it is a huge problem. Why? Because you would run out of food. Public order would drive you nuts (You probably have your army stay stationary in a settlement you recently captured just because of the public order penalty.). Plus every time you take a settlement the garrison is non-existent and all the buildings are destroyed or have to be converted which itself costs a huge sum of money.
As the game is about conquest, and my personal focus is on battle and army building, gamers like me do not want to be sidetracked by us having to micromanage settlements. Not only that but also having to be on a constant lookout for dwindling food supplies and poor sanitation.
Yes, sanitation. As if food and the public order penalties weren’t enough to torment the gamer. To give them credit the developers took inspiration from reality when they added sanitation. In that period of time outbreaks of disease were deadly and common while medicine to deal with such contagion was, primitive. Some historians have even argued that epidemics, other than the barbarian invasions were the cause for Rome’s ultimate demise.
But reality often needs to be ditched for good gameplay. The question between reality and fun gameplay is one where developers really have to wrestle with their ideas and possibly curb their enthusiasm to create a more balanced game. This balanced game was Medieval II. Its old now with outdated graphics and a monkey’s computer can run it but it was by far the best Total War and the one that hooked me on to the series. Total War Medieval II was simple and sweet. Granted it did not have that many factions (Yes, yes. This is a good thing in Rome II and even in Attila I have to admit), didn’t have proper naval battles but it was the perfect Total War game. Shogun II isn’t too far behind either. In my opinion Total War, taking inspiration from Medieval II, should come back to its glory days but we digress.
So the developers tried to make the game realistic with food and sanitation. Yet CA isn’t stupid. They are aware that the game could never be completely based in history. For example they knew that most armies at that time consisted of about or over 10000 men rather than the 1000-2000 soldiers they have in each army in-game. So even they have had to be pragmatic, and they knew they could not mimic reality in Attila completely. That’s how they should have looked at sanitation. Other than being a complete nuisance and a waste of building space (which could be used to train troops?) meant to prevent disease, the sanitation system is nothing else.
Another impediment towards building a top notch army in Attila is the building system. There are only a maximum of six buildings in your main settlement and four in your minor ones. You need to think of public order, sanitation and food for each damn province, so you can’t build the best buildings that recruit the best soldiers (at least as the Romans). Agreed, managing the economy isn’t that difficult and you can soon find yourself with a huge lump sum of money, including my own way of hoarding wealth by building money generating buildings as much as possible (at least initially) and spamming the civil tech tree. It’s mostly so that I can toss gold at the Huns so that they leave my lands in peace playing as Western Roman Empire.
Anyway the building system was the problem in Rome II and it is a problem in Attila. Personally I favored the building system of Medieval II. Thinking so much about what to build to maintain order, sanitation and food is not the objective. Conquest and battles are and they are what makes the game a classic war strategy game.
I am also on the fence about army traditions. I like how you can upgrade the army with traditions but I liked the Medieval II system better where you could have Captains other than your Generals and garrison settlements the way you want. The idea in Rome II and Attila both is to attack an enemy settlement when their army is away. It always gets the desired results. It forces us to be opportunistic rather than good commanders on the battlefield.
A downgrade from Rome II in Attila is that the commander’s abilities (like fear and rally) cannot be chosen. The commander is assigned one at random. But there is still a long progression tree where you can upgrade your governors and commanders. You can also upgrade the three different types of spy in the same way. Governors can be assigned to provinces and they gain rank pretty fast. Initially even the generals gain rank quickly, so it is not totally unlikely to see a level 10 commander.
You are likely to see the same traits many times because there are only a few in Attila, especially, when compared to medieval II.
Total War Attila brings the four seasons (and turns) in one year back and this gives vitality to your commanders and allows you to upgrade them. This four turn’s feature was present in Total War Shogun II. I liked this feature. You could not enjoy the longevity of your generals in Rome II as much as you can in Attila.
However the most annoying feature in the game (grand campaign) is that the soil fertility declines after each and every chapter (50 turns or so). And while we suffer from food shortages despite the fact that we have prepared for them by building fishmongers and cattle herds in advance (I played as Western Roman Empire the first time) the AI rarely has food shortages even if all that’s built in their settlements is a sacred grove. If the CA team wanted to experiment at least they should have given a Civilization VI type check box where you could turn sanitation and food off completely. Or the Hunnic invasion for that matter.
Now again in reality climate did change corresponding to a time during the fall of Rome but it never changed so cataclysmically. The change was gradual, rather than sudden. In Attila though I found myself with 50 food from 800 after the second chapter started.
Another thing is too much reliance on some buildings. Players who know how food shortages will cripple them in the future due to declining fertility obviously spam fishing ports. Now when players avoid some buildings completely (Trade Jetties and Military Jetties for example) it’s clear that those buildings are not needed, and the food shortages related to fertility after each chapter ensure we have to rely on fish for food. It’s a silly choice. Why give access to the building when you will force the player to spam fishing related buildings at every coastal settlement? What benefit does this give us other than causing my citizens to be stinky, putrid and reeking fishmongers.
It is also rare that someone builds the workshop as well as wheat farms which some players tend to avoid to eliminate the imminent food shortages. There just isn’t enough space with sanitation, public order, military and food buildings to build anything else. Also as you advance it appears that an entire tier of food production buildings is lacking. I say this because I have tried building some of my towns fully to Metropolis level as a city and Fortified town level as a town but it causes a food shortage and I simply need more food buildings late game, even though I have spammed them in each town (I build one or two in every minor settlement other than a fishing building in each coastal settlement). I have never felt so limited and helpless in a Total War game before. I wanted this game to do better so badly and it has treated me like an unfaithful bride.
This brings us to reminisce on the better days of Total War when we weren’t being forced to be fish mongers. The generals were your babies. The chivalry/dread mechanics, the dozens of traits for each character, plus the retinue, the change in behavior depending on how you made them act (For example using assassins gave your leader a buff in hiring and training assassins and the ability to survive attempts on his life by enemy assassins) was all missing even in Rome II. Yet all that is bad in Rome II is amplified in Attila and not only that, Attila is like a Creative Assembly guinea pig where all ideas that came into the developer’s heads are tried out here. In strategy games depth is often appreciated. But Attila suffers from the problem that there is too much to do with all these new features. They make the game appear full yet leave it hollow, if that makes sense.
There are also some serious balancing issues. The Huns are way too overpowered and to top it off the battle predictor almost never rightly predicts the battle result correctly when fighting Huns. The horse archer armies can decimate two or three full stacks of entire (Usually Roman) armies. The biggest problem is that CA made it that way on purpose. It doesn’t work like the end game crisis it was meant to be, nor like the Mongols and Timurids in Medieval 2. Does a game have to have such a crisis anyway to be entertaining? CA certainly feels so even though it is highly debatable. This is why (due to the divergence of opinion among Total War gamers) adding a number of options or check boxes at the start of the game will help. There should be a checkbox that stops the Hunnic hordes from forming at all and these options could be selected to make Huns equally strong as other nations.
Don’t get me wrong. Attila has its gratifying moments. Playing as Western Roman Empire I really enjoyed the first 50-80 turns despite the food and sanitation issues. Winning battles is really rewarding as your army and generals grow in rank and ability, giving you something to look forward to. Yes I lost settlements in the initial madness but I also defeated the Ostrogoths, Visigoths, Vandals and Franks in some tough as nails battles. Unlike others I actually liked most of the features in the family tree of the faction menu too, except the offices were rendered useless sometimes because you couldn’t give an office to a lower level commander/governor without enraging those above him, a feature since removed from Rome II but not Attila. And some bugs still exist in this part of the game.
Though not a “Total disappointment” or a “Total town with four/six buildings” (yes, possibly that) the Total War titles are getting worse as time goes by. It seems the developers are so bent on making a game that is completely different from its initial ones that they are losing sight of what makes Total War great.
All Creative Assembly had to do was utilize all the first-rate concepts they brought in Medieval II/Shogun II and acknowledge the strengths of older Total War titles. Instead they were bent on doing something entirely new and adding shiny new features which add to complexity but not entertainment value. And so “Total War Attila was born. From darkness and despair.” Possibly because Creative Assembly designed the game at night (darkness) with Norsca werewolves howling in the background (despair).
Review Platform: PC
- Good tech tree, better than Rome II.
- Nice soundtrack for battles.
- The battle predictor in normal battles is pretty good compared to old Total war games. It is weak in sieges and settlement assaults though. And rarely predicts proper battle outcome for the Hun horse archers in mind.
- Rome II lacked archers, especially when playing Romans. The archers are back in Attila, and new battle mechanics mean they can shred horsemen if given the chance to fire at them.
- Only six building slots in capitals and four in towns.
- Razing mechanics cause vast lands to be ruins. The late game is like playing in a graveyard. There are way too many razed and abandoned settlements.
- Sanitation is a constant annoyance and not a meaningful addition.
- Food shortages a constant issue. Fertility keeps declining. I have noticed that no matter how you prepare, late game food crises will be common unless you really decide to keep the settlement small and build less.
- Public order is a huge problem. When attacked or under siege the game penalizes you by causing all buildings to be destroyed and public order to be hit.
- Makes us focus specifically on building rather than conquest. It takes us away from combat.
- Huns are overpowered and Western Rome is extremely weak against them. For those who want to play Rome casually there is no solution.
- CA’s main problem is vividly noticeable in Attila. They have way too many ideas and think all of them should be there, making Attila a guinea pig of CA. The game could be far better than it actually is if it were simpler.